Friday, February 25, 2011

March is Reading Month is Around the Corner

It's the ugly truth. We don't read here every day. I mean, we like to and we read a lot, but sometimes we miss a day. We read almost every day. I never thought that would happen. Seriously, what kind of parent doesn't read to their kid daily? As a classroom teacher, I would have found this terribly shocking if a parent or child revealed this negligence to me-- along the same lines of "We don't ever use soap.", "We think seat-belts are an indication of a nanny-state.", or "We bike without helmets." Only a crazy person would not facilitate daily reading in their own home.

Sometimes we read a giant stack of picture books or too many extra chapters, but sometimes we don't. Sometimes instead of reading bedtime stories we tell stories, talk about our days, or play cards or a board game. Sometimes we go to bed early. And sometimes we have so much going on that we run out of steam.

And that's why I love March is Reading Month. I used to think it was gimmicky- celebrating what we do anyway. But after seeing the kick-in-the-right direction it delivered to us last year with Fran in Kindergarten, I am really excited. We rode on the steam from MIRM for months. Then we coasted on the energy of Library and Bookstore Summer Reading Programs. Back to school was a boost and the Christmas books usually get us through January. And then we get the February blahs- but March is right around the corner.

This March, The Reading and Writing House will be posting tips for creating a home where reading and writing matter. It's not about getting kids to read above grade-level, it's not about checking daily reading off a list, and it's not about school.

It's about life. It's about living well. And it's about feeling connected to others and yourself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Baby Flashcard Manifesto

I just read Pam Stout's post about toddlers reading on Ann And I admit it. I've done it. I've stared, slack-jawed, at the "Your Baby Can Read" commercial on a late night once in Pittsburgh. But I was not in awe of the babies; I was in awe of the parents who would isolate their children from learning through discovery and natural experiences, interactions, and materials and park them in front of a television using sight words. YBCR toots an increase in number of connections in the brain being formed. But smartness isn't just about the number of connections; it is about the network of connections. Young brains often have too many connections which will be shed anyway. (Check out "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards" for a quick study on how little brains work; Chapter 2 will be helpful.)

Seriously, why would someone want to teach a baby about sand with a flash card and a man on a video running sand in his hands instead of by having the child pouring sand through a sieve in the sandbox or at the beach? And what associations do we want babies to have with books and reading? I think Jenn McKee answers this nicely in the end of her article on e-reading: making personal connections.

I firmly believe that reading often and early with your children is usually enough. And if you personally are a joyful reader and model your own reading life, help your children find the books and magazines that fit or extend their interests, and have a solid reading program at your children's school, your readers will be in a good place.

When Claudia, at 2, picks up a familiar book and follows the pictures and tells herself the story (even retaining some specific story language)-- that is reading. When she flips through a new book and follows the pictures, provides narration, and makes characters talk-- that is reading. Reading is not just about saying individual words on a page; it is about a reader making meaning.

Sometimes I get really confused: maybe your baby can read, but is this how you want them to do it?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Curious Claude

Well, she's done it again.

Claude recently viewed a story DVD version of Curious George Rides a Bike. This, coupled with her love of her Curious George in the Big City and Curious George Makes Pancakes books sent her into a monkey frenzy, even adjusting her birthday party theme to Curious George. (Two months to go... she has gone from Dora to Olivia to cats to polka dots to monkeys to Maisy to Curious George. Hopefully something will stick once cups and napkins have been purchased.)

Yesterday, while toweling off and changing into jammies, Claude put on her know-it-all-face and told me, "Mama, in George books- George no say it. He no say it. A man tells it. Man does all the talking. George- he no say it." I nodded, told her that she was right- that sometimes another person called a narrator-- like "the man"-- tells a story and that it was a pretty smart thing for her to notice about her stories. She nodded, agreeing to her own smart-ness before wincing and saying, "Mama, I like George stories."

I was astounded to have a conversation about narrators with a 2 year old. (Well, she is almost three.) She's doing what I want young readers in school to do: to spend time with books and think about them. It is so powerful when kids notice how stories are put together on their own as readers. Claude chooses to spend so much time with books: alone, at rest (since she's not sleeping anyway), and being read to. So much about learning to read well is time spent reading and reflecting.

So I guess her Grandmothers are right: she is a genius.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zingo, Mysteries, and More

Our home reading life has been greatly interrupted by Claudia's obsession with the game Zingo. I play it at least 4 times a day with her. (Help.) Zingo has bumped out some of our reading time, especially for Fran who is the Official Zingo Caller. Hopefully over mid-winter vacation, we will tank up on some good books.

Recently we have been making a concerted effort to make sure we are carving out almost-daily time for personal reading for Fran. He's only awake and at home for 3 hours after school and with dinner, skating on the backyard rink, playing (Zingo) with Claudia, and bathtime we are crunched for time. So now, Fran and I read right after we put Miss C down to bed. Sometimes I have to poke him to stay awake and his recent bout of strep wasn't too helpful with the sleepies. But it's going well. I enjoy listening to him read, get out of tricky spots, and have theories on the books he reads, but I do miss just reading to him.

So it was with great joy that I settled into the couch with Fran last week while he read "Big Max". Fran and I talked about how it was a mystery and that mysteries have problems to solve. We talked about looking for hints- or clues. (I sat on my hands so I didn't shove post-its at him to mark the pages. This is home- not school...) He told me this was his first mystery. I was so excited to listen to him read it. (I enjoyed this more than I enjoy watching Matlock on the Hallmark channel.)

Fran did a lovely job reading, studying the pictures, and thinking. The little guy solved the mystery by using some fine inference skills. (You will have to read the book to find out how Big Max solved it: The Reading and Writing House is a "No Spoiler Zone".) I called his mystery-loving Grandmother, bragging of his mystery-solving abilities. His first mystery...solved. And I got to see it. I felt so lucky to have this window into his reading life.

The next moring, driving to school, that kid burst my bubble. He explained that really, "The Case of the Hungry Stranger" was his first mystery. That's just like him, going around and sneaking books behind my back. But still, I was so excited that he was embracing a new genre- and really pushing himself to read and think; mysteries are a great way to get into this habit. And now, it seems that he's hooked. Maybe when he gets older, he will even watch Matlock with me...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cataloging or Clutter?

Last week, Fran brought home his writing from the Fall. I enjoyed looking through the folder- and really need to sit down and look more closely. I am remarkably proud that I looked at it as a mother, instead of as a writing teacher. (It's far more joyful that way.) It was interesting to me to see what he chose to share: making an emergency Halloween costume, shopping trips, decorating the tree, soccer games at recess. Looking into his topics is like reading his feelings. I was happy to see home, school, self, and life all reflected on the page.

Also, I understand the need for the classroom to make a clean start with folders. Sometimes when there's too much paper; it's hard to do fresh work. It's all about streamlining: too many books makes it harder to find one to read, too many toys makes it harder to sustain play, too much "gingerbread" in decorating makes for a cluttered, garish house.

If you are finding yourself in a state of ungapatchka (oon-gah-pahtch-kah) relating to your children's school papers or toys, the NYT article "Mom, You're One Tough Art Critic" may be helpful. Hoarding isn't healthy, but it can be instinctual. The article discusses the value of product over process and how we can teach children to pare down what is saved, negotiating that tricky balance of honoring and tossing.

And rest-assured, even if you filter your child's saved work and at times file some of it in the outside recycle bin (without his/ her input), chances are, you will be more supportive than artist Marilyn Minter's parents...